02/25/2003 1:00AM

Bien Nicole makes rare dirt start


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Bien Nicole, a turf specialist who has not raced on dirt since she won her maiden in September of 2001, runs on the main track Thursday in the featured ninth race at Oaklawn Park.

The 1 1/16-mile money allowance drew six fillies and mares, including Mckinney, third-place finisher last out in the $50,000 Pippin Stakes. The purse is $36,000, and the race could produce starters for the Grade 3, $200,000 Oaklawn Breeders' Cup on March 15.

Bien Nicole won five straight races on turf last year under the direction of trainer Donnie Von Hemel, with four of them coming in stakes. Her streak started in July, when she won an optional claiming race at Lone Star Park, and continued through Oct. 25, when she won the $100,000 Estrapade at Arlington Park the day before the Breeders' Cup.

In between were wins in the $150,000 DeBartolo at Remington, in which Bien Nicole defeated males; the $131,000 River Cities at Louisiana Downs; and the $50,000 Margarita at Retama Park.

But for all her success on turf, there are many reasons to believe Bien Nicole could be as effective on the main track. For one, she is a winner on dirt, having won her maiden in the mud. A Wednesday weather forecast called for snow or freezing rain, which could result in a wet track here Thursday.

Bien Nicole also gets some pedigree support for dirt. Her dam is an unraced half-sister to millionaire and Grade 1 winner Olympio, who won the Grade 2 Arkansas Derby on the Oaklawn main track.

Bien Nicole also shows a series of strong works on dirt at Oaklawn. In her final prep for Thursday, which will be her first start since she finished third in the Grade 3 Cardinal Handicap at Churchill on Nov. 23, she worked five furlongs in 1:01. It was the second fastest move of 44 at the distance.

Don Pettinger has the mount on Bien Nicole, who has won 8 of 16 starts. She is owned by John and Kristine Richter.

Luis Quinonez will be aboard Mckinney, who rallied from well of the pace in the mud last out to finish third, beaten a length by Red n'Gold, in the $50,000 Pippin. She has compiled an enviable record of 10 wins in 21 starts on dirt and is 2 for 3 at Oaklawn. She is owned by Nelson Bunker Hunt and trained by Steve Asmussen.

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